Making mountain bike videos has been frustrating for a long time. POV footage is boring, shaky videos are hard to watch, and drones are bulky to carry on the trail and are tricky to fly. The HoverAir X1 is designed to make it easier to capture drone footage on the trail thanks to simple preset flight patterns along with a portable and rugged design.
HoverAir X1 specs
The HoverAir X1 drone features a 2.7k video camera capable of filming 30fps at a resolution of 2704x1520px. The camera can also take 12MP photos (4000x3000px). My test unit weighs 129g and comes with a 32Gb of memory for storing video clips. The Hover X1 folds down to a size that’s approximately as large as three smartphones stacked on top of one another.
- 2.7k video resolution @ 30fps
- 12MP stills
- 32Gb memory
- Weight: 129g
- Buy from HoverAir
The HoverAir X1 flies to a maximum height of 15m and in wind up to 7.9m/s (about 17mph). Both of these specs are lower than what you will find on a drone like the DJI Mini 3.
Unlike traditional drones, there’s no GPS system built in, and no way to fly the Hover X1 using manual flight controls. Five pre-programmed modes allow the HoverAir X1 to hover, orbit, zoom in, zoom out, and follow the subject within a strict set of parameters, like the 15m maximum flight height. Each mode can be modified to change the speed or height, for example, and a custom mode is available beyond the five pre-programmed modes. A live video preview from the drone POV can be viewed using the free Hover X1 app (iPhone and Android).
Without GPS, the Hover X1 relies on facial recognition to follow its subject. (I did an experiment to see if it would start following me after someone else launched the drone, but it would not. It stayed locked on the original subject.) The drone launches from your hand, and lands there once again it’s done.
I’ve found a single battery charge gives about 10 minutes of flight time, depending on the types of shots I’m filming and wind conditions. The $439 combo bundle (tested, currently on sale for $399) comes with a battery charger and two batteries for additional flight time. Charging the battery to full takes about 35 minutes.
On the trail with the Hover X1 pocket drone
Looking at the marketing materials for the HoverAir X1 it’s clear this drone is designed for selfies. Its ability to hover is nice for talking into the camera, though there’s no built-in microphone since all you’d hear is fan noise. (It’s loud.) The Hover X1 app does have the ability to use your phone’s microphone to record better sound and syncs everything after recording.
Of course I couldn’t wait to take the HoverAir X1 onto the trail and see if it could follow me on singletrack in the woods. My first test flight was indoors and it was a little freaky how well the drone followed me around the house. The pre-programmed follow mode keeps the drone at head height, and at a distance of about 6-10 feet. Because it doesn’t know where you’re going, it has to follow from behind, so get used to watching the back of your head as you zoom down the trail.
I learned a lot filming my first few trail videos. For starters, the HoverAir X1 doesn’t do a great job avoiding tree branches, especially when the trail drops quickly. Fortunately the enclosed rotors are well protected, and despite more than half a dozen collisions (see video above), my test unit still flies just fine.
With the drone following from behind, I kept looking back to see if it was still tracking me down the trail. After several test flights I learned to just listen for it, and if the drone sounds like it’s falling behind, I slow down. It’s hard to say what the HoverAir X1’s top speed is, but it’s clearly not full gas. For most mountain bikers this means riding at about half speed to ensure you get the shots you want, and to avoid losing the drone. Because the Hover X1 uses subject recognition, it gets confused when the rider falls out of frame.
On a recent trip to Bentonville I was able to fly the HoverAir X1 in places that are geo-fenced from more powerful drones. Geo fences tell drones where they can and can’t fly, and there’s a surprising number of restricted areas around sensitive areas like airports and highways. While it’s possible to launch the HoverAir X1 anywhere, the tradeoff is that it never gets far away from its subject, and is limited in how high it can fly.
There are also massive limitations on the type of footage it can capture. Overhead, “birds eye” shots are limited to looking directly down at the subject; there’s no way to launch and just look around. Still, there are enough options available to capture plenty of really creative shots that go well beyond POV. One that I really like is combining a birds eye shot with a full rotation.
The resulting footage is good, though obviously lower quality than the 4K and now 8K action cameras on the market. I would rate the stabilization above average, especially compared to a helmet-mounted camera. POV footage tends to get boring, so anything that brings a new perspective is welcome. Combined with a wearable camera, the HoverAir X1 is a great compliment.
Pros and cons of the HoverAir X1 camera drone
- Simple to control
- Lightweight and portable
- Good stabilization and brightness
- Flies anywhere, including indoors and on trails
- Limited speed and height
- Can’t shift focus to other people or objects once it’s identified its subject
The HoverAir X1 works surprisingly well, and the pre-programmed modes make it simple to use. It’s proven rugged on the trail, and the portable shape makes it quick and easy to use on any ride. It’s certainly earned a spot in my hip pack.
- Price: $439 (currently $399)
- Buy from thehover.com.